Impact of acute stress on cortical electrical activity and cardiac autonomic coupling

Author: Taryn Chalmers1, Shamona Maharaj1, Ty Lees2, C T Lin3, Phillip Newton4, Roderick Clifton-Bligh5, Craig S McLachlan6, Sylvia M Gustin, Sara Lal1
Author Information:
1 Neuroscience Research Unit, School of Technology Sydney, PO Box 123, Australia.
2 Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University, PA, 16802, USA.
3 Computational Intelligence and Brain Computer Interface Centre (CIBCI), Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT), University of Technology Sydney, PO Box 123, Australia.
4 School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith NSW 2751, Australia.
5 Medicine, Kolling Institute of Medical Research, Northern Clinical School, University of Sydney, NSW 2065, Australia.
6 Centre for Healthy Futures, Health Faculty, Pyrmont Campus, Sydney, Torrens University Australia, NSW 2009, Australia.
7 School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.
8 Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, NSW 2031, Australia.
Conference/Journal: J Integr Neurosci
Date published: 2020 Jun 30
Other: Volume ID: 19 , Issue ID: 2 , Pages: 239-248 , Special Notes: doi: 10.31083/j.jin.2020.02.74. , Word Count: 266


Assessment of heart rate variability (reflective of the cardiac autonomic nervous system) has shown some predictive power for stress. Further, the predictive power of the distinct patterns of cortical brain activity and - cardiac autonomic interactions are yet to be explored in the context of acute stress, as assessed by an electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram. The present study identified distinct patterns of neural-cardiac autonomic coupling during both resting and acute stress states. In particular, during the stress task, frontal delta waves activity was positively associated with low-frequency heart rate variability and negatively associated with high-frequency heart rate variability. Low high-frequency power is associated with stress and anxiety and reduced vagal control. A positive association between resting high-frequency heart rate variability and frontocentral gamma activity was found, with a direct inverse relationship of low-frequency heart rate variability and gamma wave coupling at rest. During the stress task, low-frequency heart rate variability was positively associated with frontal delta activity. That is, the parasympathetic nervous system is reduced during a stress task, whereas frontal delta wave activity is increased. Our findings suggest an association between cardiac parasympathetic nervous system activity and frontocentral gamma and delta activity at rest and during acute stress. This suggests that parasympathetic activity is decreased during acute stress, and this is coupled with neuronal cortical prefrontal activity. The distinct patterns of neural-cardiac coupling identified in this study provide a unique insight into the dynamic associations between brain and heart function during both resting and acute stress states.

KEYWORDS: Electrocardiography; cardiac; electroencephalography; heart rate variability; neural-cardiac coupling; neuroscience; nursing; occupational stress; psychophysiology; stress.

PMID: 32706188 DOI: 10.31083/j.jin.2020.02.74

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